Belfast Telegraph

QPR leading chase to land Crusaders' rising star Whyte this summer

 

By Graham Luney

Queens Park Rangers could be set to launch another summer raid on the Irish League to bring Crusaders winger Gavin Whyte to Loftus Road.

The Championship side landed Paul Smyth from Linfield last August and now they are the club leading the chase for the Seaview favourite.

Whyte, who turns 22 on January 31, has just pocketed back-to-back Player of the Month prizes, and his devastating form this season has sparked fresh interest among cross-channel scouts.

One Crusaders source explained: "We've had at least 12 scouts watching Gavin this season but QPR are the biggest club. There have been no offers but you would expect any interest to be followed up in the summer, allowing a young player time to adapt to a full-time environment."

A QPR scout was hoping to watch Whyte in action on Saturday, but he was rested for the Irish Cup game against Maiden City. Crusaders rejected bids for the player from Dundee United a year ago, but a summer move remains a real possibility.

That's because the man from the Markets, who turns 22 on January 31, has been so impressive this season it would take a remarkable twist for him not to be crowned Player of the Year in May.

Whyte, who has made 146 appearances for Crusaders and was a striker in his early career, has just become the first player in eight years to win two straight Northern Ireland Football Writers' monthly awards.

He helped the Crues to five wins and top spot in the Premiership in December with goals against Glenavon, Linfield, Cliftonville and Ballymena United. In November, he earned the award with nine goals in seven games over the course of the month.

He also collected the player of the round - Golden Balls award - for his late winner that sunk Dundee United in their IRN-BRU Cup quarter-final. The semi-final against Inverness on February 17 is another opportunity to impress on Scottish soil.

But earlier in his career, a move into full-time football was the last thing on his mind. Away from the pitch, Whyte had to deal with the trauma of the premature birth of his daughter Lily two years ago.

It was a very worrying time for his family and the young father, but Crusaders were quick to offer him support.

Lily enjoyed her second birthday on December 16, firmly kicking off the festive celebrations for Gavin, who lives with his mum Patricia.

"My mum does a lot for me and is very supportive," admitted Gavin, who was educated at Hazelwood College before progressing to Belfast Met for two years.

"Poor Lily is sick at the moment, and there's nothing worse than that, but she had a great birthday and Christmas and she's now growing a personality.

"It's been great to see how much stronger she has become."

Gavin now works part-time at Zace print and embroidery in Belfast, a business established by his former Crusaders team-mate Paul Leeman in 2015.

This time last year, after the Crues knocked back two Dundee United bids, Baxter said: "The offers are absolutely nowhere near what we would expect for a player of this calibre."

In 2015, Whyte was crowned Young Player of the Year and was handed trials at Everton and Celtic, but Baxter was always wary about the "media circus" surrounding his rising star.

His form did suffer while speculation gathered pace and, anxious to avoid a repeat of that scenario, the Crues boss said after his winner against Linfield at Windsor Park on December 30: "We are not having any clubs make derisory offers and unsettling the player, perhaps offering a third of what I'm offering an Irish League player to sign. If you go to the shops and like the diamond ring you buy it. If you don't, don't buy it."

This season he has added two major strengths to his game - goals and consistency.

Smyth has shown that hard work can take you places and Whyte is certainly following in his footsteps - possibly all the way to Loftus Road.

Belfast Telegraph

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